No matter how much Cuomo gives The Left, he can’t win their love
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: September 2018
Newspaper: The New York Post
Topics: Minimum Wage
Gov. Andrew Cuomo went into his gubernatorial primary against Cynthia Nixon on Thursday with statewide polls giving him a nearly 40-point advantage. Yet Cuomo’s nervous habit of desperately trying to appease his left flank continued right through the primary — and shows no sign of slowing down as the governor mulls a presidential run.
But Cuomo shouldn’t let the election pass without learning a lesson about his fair-weather friends on the left — and those who aren’t any kind of friend of his, fair-weather or otherwise.
Cuomo is no one’s idea of a moderate. The examples of his so-called progressive policies are numerous: He thumbed his nose at the economic evidence and pushed through the country’s first statewide $15 minimum wage; his Excelsior Scholarship program made state college “free” for middle-class New Yorkers (if not taxpayers); he banned fracking and left many New Yorkers in the state’s Southern Tier without a hoped-for source of economic development; and he’s repeatedly picked a fight with the NRA, overreaching to such an extent that he inspired the ACLU to side with the gun-rights group against his power grab.
Yet these wins for Cuomo haven’t assuaged suspicions from the state’s progressives; if anything, those suspicions have intensified. In an interview last year, Bill Lipton of the Working Families Party accused Cuomo of being focused on “short-term political calculations” and lacking a “long-term commitment to a progressive vision.” Nixon’s candidacy, which lost Cuomo some of his erstwhile allies on the left, was proof of that.
But it’s not clear these “allies” have Cuomo’s best interests at heart — or those of regular New Yorkers. A good example is the current debate over the state’s minimum wage for tipped employees. The governor set off alarm bells with restaurant employees and owners when he announced late last year that the Labor Department would hold a series of hearings on whether to upend the state’s tipping system.
Cuomo has previously used his power to bypass the Legislature to advance policies for allies; most recently, in 2015, he empaneled a wage board to create a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers. The SEIU — which spent millions on its Fight for $15 campaign — reciprocated by helping underwrite a statewide PR campaign for the governor that was branded the “Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice.”
This time around, the labor interests pushing for action on the tip credit have thanked the governor by campaigning for his opponent. Some of the most vocal proponents for tip credit elimination — including Citizen Action of New York, Make The Road New York and New York Communities For Change — have also been vocal supporters of Cynthia Nixon. (Make The Road has endorsed Nixon through its C4 counterpart, Make the Road Action.)
The tip-credit controversy also stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition from thousands of tipped employees in the state — the very people the governor was supposed to be helping. Albany bartender Maggie Raczynski started a Facebook group to defend the tipped wage that now has over 20,000 members; she wrote an op-ed this spring telling Cuomo, “we are not asking for [your] help, we don’t need to be saved” from the tipped-wage status quo.
The Democratic Party doesn’t need more strident voices trying to one up each other on who can be more aggressively liberal. There’s no shortage of politicians who check that box, and in any case it’s impossible to win this competition without embracing truly harmful economic and political ideas.
Cuomo has already tacked too far to the left, and the friends he found there proved fickle. Perhaps in the governor’s third term, he should focus on fulfilling the hoped-for promises of his first.